I have been blessed in many ways not the least of which was being a teenager in the best decade of the twentieth century for growing up, the Fabulous Fifties. Two Great Wars and The Depression had drained youth the previous fifty years, but now they were over and life was pleasant and great guns were in profusion. The Korean War ended in 1953, Ike was in the White House, and Springfield 1903's were $7.50 as were companion 1911 .45 Government Models. Double the ante to $15 and an 1884 Springfield Trapdoor .45-70 was yours. Gun restrictions were practically unknown in the long ago and faraway years before the Gun Control Act of '68. And no one could ever have envisioned that we would someday talk of Winchesters of the time as "pre-64".
In my part of the country, sixteen was the legal age for buying any gun, be it long gun or handgun and the local gunshop even extended credit to us starry-eyed future pistoleros. And the sixguns that were available! Pre-War Colt Single Actions, Bisleys, and New Services, Smith & Wesson .38/44 Heavy Dutys and .44 Specials, and the new upstart firm out in Southport Connecticut was offering a beautiful little .22 called the Single-Six. A firm in California, Great Western offered the first of many Colt replicas with their line-up of Single Actions in .357 Atomic, .38 Special, .44 Special, and .45 Colt.
Yes, the fifties were a grand time to be completely consumed by sixgun fever. In the two year period of 1955-1956, we were permitted to see the greatest development of sixguns ever in such a short period of time. Neither before or since have we seen its like. Consider this. In that one short period of time, Colt resurrected the Single Action Army and gave us their Cadillac of Revolvers, the Python. Smith & Wesson gave the peace officer his dream gun in the form of a beefed up Military & Police called the .357 Combat Magnum, and the hunter received the ultimate hunting handgun, the .44 Magnum. The genius of Southport put Magnum cartridges in single action workin' sixguns with the .357 Blackhawk and .44 Blackhawk. Six great sixguns in two years and by now Great Western was really rolling and soon brought out a .44 Magnum sixgun. We were definitely in handgun heaven.
But nothing stays the same. The Flat-Top Ruger Blackhawks are gone, Great Western is long gone, and many of the Colt and Smith & Wesson guns of the 1950's and earlier are now also long gone. Gone but too good to ever be forgotten.
Today's sixguns are bigger and stronger and in greater profusion than ever before. Dan Wesson arrived on the scene with Magnums and SuperMags. Ruger has .44 Magnums in both Single Action and Double Action persuasion. Colt, after waiting thirty-five years, finally brought out a .44 Magnum, and Smith & Wesson continues to offer the most diverse line-up of sixguns in four frame sizes. BUT, profuse as they may be, big as they may be, and strong as they may be, today's sixguns are neither as finely finished nor as slick as yesterday's sixguns.
Even the Freedom Arms Casull line of revolvers, probably the best revolver ever to be offered to the shooting public, does not have the graceful lines of the grand old Single Action Army from Colt. It comes as close as possible and still be able to contain the powerful .454 Casull in a portable package, but even designer Dick Casull is a great admirer of the Colt Single Action Army.
Maybe a sign of getting older is spending more time in the past than in the future. To this, I plead guilty. And one of the reasons I spend much time in the past is because many of my friends are there. Sixgunners like Elmer Keith and Skeeter Skelton, Bill Jordan and Rex Applegate. And certainly many of my favorite sixguns are there. Sixguns that are simply too good to be forgotten. Sixguns that remind us of what really was a kinder, gentler time.
Seems lately that every writer is offering his ten best. I have read articles on the Ten Best Handguns, the Ten Best Rifles, the Ten Best Calibers, etc., etc., etc. I don't know that I would presume to be able to pick the ten best of anything, but the following will offer my Ten Too Good To Be Forgotten Sixguns.
COLT SINGLE ACTION ARMY: In 1873, one of the greatest sixguns of all times was introduced, the Colt Single Action Army. It still exists in the used gun market and from the Colt Custom Shop and it has also been copied and modified and offered by Great Western, Ruger, Seville, Abilene, Freedom Arms, and by an endless host of foreign importers.
The first Colt Single Action Army was offered in the now equally legendary .45 Colt. Basically designed for the military market, the SAA was offered in a barrel length of seven and one half-inches to duplicate the feel of the 1851 Navy and 1860 Army. The Single Action Colt was soon offered with a five and one-half inch barrel, the Artillery Model as opposed to the longer Cavalry Model. And then some gunfighter took a good look at the Colt Single Action, cut the barrel length even with the ejector rod housing and one of the finest balanced sixguns ever emerged, the four and three-quarter inch barreled single action. The Gunfighter's Weapon had really arrived.
The first single action Colt came upon the scene in 1836 (the Paterson). That is more than one hundred and fifty years ago! It was improved in 1848 (the Walker), 1851 (the Navy), 1860 (the Army), and finally in 1873 became basically the fine sixgun that still exists today. It should have died in 1899 with the coming of the Smith & Wesson K-frame double actions, as slick handlin' a sixgun as one is likely to find. It did not. It should have been buried by the advent of the 1907 N-frame big bore sixgun. It survived. By 1911 the .45 ACP chambered Government Model, a gun designed to give the power of the 1873 .45 Colt in a "modern" gun, should have made everyone forget the single action. The single action remained. Patton carried one in two world wars as did General Skinny Wainwright. Texas Ranger Frank Hamer was just one of many Texas rangers for decades who carried a Colt Single Action. In his case it was "Old Lucky" and he was still carrying it when he came out of retirement to help stop the infamous Bonnie and Clyde.
The Colt Single Action fell on hard times in the 1930's and 1940's but it is a survivor. There were those that abandoned the single action and took up the new-fangled double actions and semi-automatics. Even at the Colt factory, the sales of the Single Action were eclipsed by the sales of the double action New Service. And when the war started manufacturing of the Colt Single Action ceased. It was not to have returned but the demand in the 1950's was such that the Second Generation of Colt Single Actions arrived on the scene in the mid- 1950's.
Single Action Colts were available once again in .45 Colt, .38 Special, .357 Magnum, and finally in .44 Special. By the time 70,000 Second Generation Colt Single Actions were made the machinery was worn out and the Colt Single Action was buried again. By the end of the 1970's it had resurfaced again in the Third Generation. Unfortunately, these guns were not the equal of earlier sixguns from Colt. When the announcement was made that production would cease for the third time, the market was flooded with Third Generation Colt Single Actions not all of which were put together and finished with the care they deserved.
No gun ever stirred a sixgunner's heart like the Colt Single Action Army, the Model P. It has the finest grip ever designed (discovered) for loads shy of full house Magnums. As it rests in a properly designed holster, its hammer rides high ready to be contacted by the thumb as the draw is made. No sixgun nor semi-automatic has ever been made that is faster on the draw for the first shot then the Colt Single Action. It reeks of history, of lawmen and gunfighters, of cattle drives and roundups, of campfires and hunting trips, of Saturday afternoon matinees and shooting sessions. It is what a sixgun was meant to be.
The Third Generation Single Action is now available from the Colt Custom Shop at a $1600 price tag. It has been saved from extinction by Cowboy Action Shooting.
COLT NEW FRONTIER: The 1950's faded as did our teenage years and we slipped into the 1960's with high hopes. We had a new young president who said "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." Little did we realize the fate that awaited him in a few short years nor the number of heroic young people that would die in a war they were not allowed to win.
In 1961, to celebrate the New Frontier of JFK, Colt introduced their New Frontier, a target grade Single Action Army. The frame was flat-topped and for the first time a fully adjustable rear sight was available with matching ramp style front sight. The New Frontier was one of the most beautiful single actions ever to exit the Hartford factory. In 1963, I was in college and New Frontiers were $140 at a time when college tuition was $133 per quarter. Even though I could not even come close to raising the money, I've always regretted that I did not pick up a .44 Special New Frontier at that time. Thanks to my wife I now have one that she found and surprised me with. Gotta love a woman like that!
The Second Generation Colt New Frontier was produced in .45 Colt, .357 Magnum, .44 Special (very rare), and .38 Special (the rarest). When the Third Generation New Frontiers arrived in the 1980's, the .38 Special was gone and the .44-40 was added. Now all New Frontiers are gone and a unique single action has disappeared.
My ivory-stocked Third Generation .44 Special is not the equal of its Second Generation brother as to fit and finish but is a fine sixgun nevertheless. It is perfectly at home with Keith's old .44 Special loading of 250 grain hard cast bullet over 17.0 grains of #2400 for 1200 feet per second and can be shot in comfort all day with the same bullet at 950 feet per second over 7.5 grains of Unique. I don't believe I would have a very easy time picking one favorite sixgun but the .44 Special New Frontier would certainly be in the top part of the list. RUGER `FLAT-TOP' BLACKHAWK: "God Bless Bill Ruger for putting Magnum rounds in single action workin' guns!" I remember reading this quote in the middle '50's in an article in GUNS magazine. The piece was written by an old cowboy, trapper, ranger, etc., one Walter Rodgers. Rodgers had carried Colt Single Actions all of his life and now, in his later years, Ruger had given him a nearly perfect single action, the .357 Blackhawk. After packin' Colts for so many years, Rodgers found tremendous improvements in the then new big bore single action Ruger. The Ruger had virtually unbreakable coil springs, and excellent adjustable sights made up of a Micro that set low in the wide flat top strap.
Experimenters like Elmer Keith, Gordon Boser, and John Lachuk tried to get Colt to modernize the Colt Single Action but to no avail. Bill Ruger listened and re-introduced the single action at a time when American sixgunners were being primed for a single action revival by TV westerns. Ruger correctly read the situation and in 1953 brought out the .22 Single-Six, a scaled down single action .22 with a full sized Colt style grip frame. I doubt that even Bill Ruger could foresee the acceptance that his .22, and later Centerfire SA's would find with the shooting public.
My first handgun was a .22 Single-Six purchased in 1956. That started a undying passion for single actions that continues to this day. I soon purchased a four and five-eighths inch .357 Blackhawk `Flat- top', and followed that with a .44 Magnum Blackhawk in 1957. The .44 has gone from a barrel length of six and one half inches to four and five eighths inches and now wears a seven and one half-inch barrel and is still one of my favorite sixguns. Place it right alongside the Colt New Frontier .44 Special as one of my favorite sixguns. During the time that the Flat-tops were being manufactured, less than 1000 original seven and one-half inch barreled .44 Magnums were produced.
Ruger went to work rechambering their .357 Blackhawk to the new ".44 Special Magnum" after someone from Ruger found a new .44 Magnum brass case in Smith's scrap pile. Or so the story goes. The .357 Blackhawk of the 1950's was built with a smaller frame and cylinder than the present .357 New Model and Keith told them that the gun was too small but he would like to have one to use as a .44 Special. Before, he was given the first .44 Ruger, factory testing proved him right when the .357/.44 blew and Ruger went back to the drawing boards and the result was the .44 Blackhawk now known to collectors as the Flat-top.
In some parts of the country, the Ruger .44 actually hit the shelves before the Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum. That was 1956 and the Smith & Wesson, beautifully finished and with a magnificently smooth action and trigger pull, sold for $140. As a teenager I was making $15 a week with a paper route at the time. The Ruger, not quite so nicely finished sold for $96. After graduating from high school, I bought the first Ruger Blackhawk in the area for the full $96 at a time when I was making ninety cents an hour.
To buy the Ruger I passed up a .45 Colt Single Action, with a full- ribbed barrel and a King short action job, for $125. I still have the Ruger, which has gone from its original six and one-half inch barrel to a cut down four and five-eighths inch length to its present seven and one-half inch tube, and I would not want to give it up at all, but just imagine what that Colt would be worth today!
The original Ruger generated a lot of recoil with full house loads and I purchased a six and one-half inch Ruger Flat-top .44 a few years back that came through a friend from a widow whose husband had been braver than most. He had fired twelve rounds, two cylindersful, of .44 Magnum ammunition before he decided that this was too much for him. He never fired the big sixgun again. Careful handloading could have solved his problem and my Flat-top is fed a steady diet of 250 grain Keith semi-wadcutters over 10.0 grains of Unique for 1150 feet per second.
RUGER `THREE SCREW' BLACKHAWK: Ruger wisely decided that their .44 Magnum was too light for the cartridge and in 1959 brought out the now classic Super Blackhawk. To increase weight, a non-fluted cylinder was used and the grip frame was increased in size from the Colt Single Action style to the Colt Dragoon style and it was made of steel rather than a lightweight alloy as on the Flat-top.
In 1963, the original Blackhawk was changed to what is now known as the Old Model or Three-Screw. For some strange reason the grip frame design was changed moving it rearward about one-fourth of an inch supposedly to allow more hand room, and the rear sight received "wings" on both sides and the flat-top silhouette was gone. The action was still the basic Blackhawk with the old style single action hammer at half cock for loading and the necessity of carrying the sixgun as a five-gun with the hammer resting on an empty chamber.
I never really realized how much difference the change in the grip frame made until several years ago at the Shootists Holiday. A friend, fellow Shootist Brian Pearce, came up and handed me a loaded seven and one-half inch New Frontier .45 Colt. "Here John, try this load." I did and it was obviously a powerful loading but not at all unpleasant to shoot. "What is it?" "The Keith 260 grain bullet over 18.5 grains of #2400." "Now try this one" as he handed me a loaded seven and one-half inch Ruger .45 Old Model Blackhawk. Again I shot, again it was a powerful load, but this time the perceived recoil was much more substantial. It was the same load as fired in the New Frontier but the grip frame made all the difference. My .45 Colt Blackhawk now wears an old XR3, or Flat-top grip frame.
While the original Blackhawk was available only in .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum, new chamberings were added to the Three Screw Model. Joining the .357 Magnum were the .41 Magnum, the .30 Carbine, and the very welcome addition of the above mentioned .45 Colt. Ruger had planned to offer the original Blackhawk in .44 Special and .45 Colt, but the quick arrival of the .44 Magnum changed that.
Ruger started a tradition with the Blackhawk, that of pricing their sixguns to appeal to the average shooter. Smith 29's were going for $140, while Ruger managed to bring their first .44 in at $96. When the Super Blackhawk came out in 1959, it was a highly polished specimen in a wooden case for $120. The Ruger Super Blackhawk won acceptance from .44 shooters; it was cheaper than the Smith, some sixgunners said recoil was felt less because of its grip design, and it was the only .44 available through the '70's as Clint Eastwood's "Dirty Harry" created a false demand for Smith 29's.
In 1973, all Ruger Single Actions were changed to the New Model style with the transfer bar safety, and the three frame sizes, .22, .357 and .44 were replaced with two frame sizes with all Centerfire chamberings being on the large frame. The addition of the transfer bar allowed the safe carrying of all Ruger SA's with six rounds as the firing pin no longer rested on the primer of a live round or depended upon a very flimsy safety notch on the hammer. At first I balked at the idea of the "new" style, but in retrospect, probably a number of accidental shootings have been avoided by the changing of the 100 year old single action design which, while safe in the hands of knowledgeable shooters, could be dangerous when improperly used.
The New Model Rugers are probably stronger than their Flat-top and Three Screw counterparts but they do not have the fine feel of the older models. Maybe I'm just too conservative, maybe I'm just too traditional, and then maybe the old guns really were better after all.
GREAT WESTERN SINGLE ACTION: A brand new magazine began publication in 1955, as GUNS made its debut that year and headlined: A SIXSHOOTER FOR TV COWBOYS. This was not the Colt, but a new sixgun, the Great Western, being produced in California. In their first ads, GW actually used pictures of old Colt Single Actions. Full-sized Colt replicas were available for the first time. And the Great Western Single Action really was a six-shooter for the TV cowboys. James Arness as Matt Dillon gunned down holster maker Arvo Ojala every Saturday Night in Dodge City with a Great Western .45 Colt. Clint "Cheyenne" Walker fought the bad guys with a Great Western. George Montgomery used Great Westerns in many of his western movies and even John Wayne was an enthusiastic booster of Great Western Single Actions.
Many of the parts of GW sixguns were interchangeable with Colt parts but the Great Western used a firing pin mounted in the frame of the type that I believe was pioneered by Herb Bradley and then produced by the old Christy Gun Works. Great Westerns were offered in the standard calibers: .45 Colt, .44 Special, .38 Special, .357 Magnum, plus the ".357 Atomic". Unlike the Ruger Single-Six, the Great Western .22 was a full-sized sixgun and identical to the big bore Great Western Single Action. A .44 Magnum was also offered and I just picked one up this year in very good condition mechanically with very little of the original bluing left for the grand sum of $150.
There are a lot of mysteries about Great Western Single Actions. They began production in the early 1950's and by the 1960's were gone. Names connected to the company that come to mind are William Wilson and Hy Hunter. I also believe that Audie Murphy, most decorated soldier of World War II and later celluloid cowboy star, was a part owner in the company. Elmer Keith writing in 1955 said that he had a target sighted .44 Special Great Western four and three quarter-inch Single Action that was "...a very fine single action in every way, perfectly timed, sighted, and very accurate. It has performed perfectly with factory loads and our heavy handloads and is very accurate at extreme ranges, the real test of any sixgun." I do not know what happened to Keith's .44 Special Great Western as I did not find it in the Keith collection when I examined his sixguns after his death.
Great Western sixguns seemed to disappear and I saw very few through the 1960's and 1970's. I did find one in the early 1970's, a seven and one-half inch barreled .44 Special that I swapped for straight across giving up a six-inch nickled .357 Magnum Smith & Wesson Model 27. That .44 Special is as tight or tighter than any Colt to ever come out of Hartford. Like all Great Westerns that I have experience with, the rear sight is a very shallow "v" notch making it quite difficult to shoot. The front sight is much too low causing the gun to shoot high with standard weight bullets.
In the early 1980's I picked up a second Great Western, this time a seven and one-half inch .45 Colt with a bright blue finish. Like the .44 Special, the frame is a very weak case color and the front sight is also too low. Both of these seven and one half-inch barreled Great Western Single Actions were sent to premier gunsmith Hamilton Bowen who cut the barrels to four and three quarter-inches, crowned the muzzles Colt-style, fitted new Colt-style front sights, squared up the rear notch, and also pronounced to me that these two sixguns were as good as any Colt Single Actions he had ever seen.
Those were the last Great Westerns I was to see for a long period of time and then just after Christmas in 1990 I walked into Shapel's Gun Shop and spotted a Colt Single Action .45 Colt in the display case. Or so I thought until I saw the price tag. $125, certainly not a Colt. "What do you have there?" queried I. "It is a Great West..." And I immediately interrupted with "I'll take it!" I was given a rather strange look for being willing to buy a sixgun I hadn't even seen yet, and then the owner's son came over and said "Dad has another one in the back for the same price. "I'll take that one too!" And for $250 I walked out of the shop with two pieces of American sixgun history, a five and one-half inch .45 Colt and a seven and one-half inch .38 Special. The latter has a finish that looks like Parkerizing, but it is tight and well-timed and proved to be accurate as did the .45 Colt specimen once I replaced the mainspring which was so weak that the hammer/firing pin would bounce off the primers.
A few weeks later I traded into a fifth Great Western, a five and one-half inch .357 Atomic. I believe the Atomic was a +P+ .357 load that resurrected the original .357 Magnum loading of 1935. That old loading was 16.0 grains of #2400 behind a 158 grain bullet and is not to be used in any of today's .357 Magnums that were not specifically designed for it.
I've already mentioned the sixth Great Western, the .44 Magnum, and then just a few weeks ago, I tumbled into another Great Western, a .45 Colt four and three quarter-inch nickled speciman for $125! I mention all of these as I have less money invested in not one, nor two, but seven high quality Great Western Single Actions than it would cost me for one Colt Single Action from the Custom Shop today. If that isn't a bargain I don't know one.
SMITH & WESSON .38/44 HEAVY DUTY/OUTDOORSMAN: In 1930, Smith & Wesson chambered their large framed .44 Special (.44 Hand Ejector Third Model) sixgun for the .38 Special. Was this a step backwards? Smith already had the medium-framed Military & Police chambered for the .38 Special and it was a favorite police duty weapon. But, just as today, peace officers found themselves often undergunned when coming up against bootleggers and other criminals using heavier weapons.
Smith & Wesson chambered their large-framed, now N-frame, sixgun for the .38 Special to allow the use of the new .38/44 Special cartridge which brought the muzzle velocity of the .38 Special up from around 850- 900 feet per second to 1150 feet per second. In doing so they gave sixgunners what is probably the slickest handlin' sixgun ever for double action work. The massive frame and cylinder of the .38/44 Heavy Duty coupled with the low recoiling .38 Special gave new meaning to fast gun handling.
The first .38/44's were made with five-inch barrels and both Elmer Keith and Phil Sharpe worked with Heavy Duty's with loads beyond the .38/44 loading resulting five years later in the .357 Magnum. Before the advent of the .357 Magnum , the .38/44 Heavy Duty was offered in a target version as in the waning days of 1931, the .38/44 Outdoorsman was introduced.
In these days of .357, .41 and .44 Magnums and .454 Casulls, not many would think of the .38 Special as an outdoorsman's chambering but in 1931, the .38/44 was the hottest thing going in a revolver. Handloaders had heavy loaded .44 Specials and .45 Colts, but how many were handloaders in those depression days? The Colt .38 Super had arrived in semi-automatic mode but only loads with full metal jacketed bullets were available.
Reloaders of the early 1930's brought the .38 Special above many present-day .357 Magnum loads. The Keith load is more than sixty years old and I still use it more than any other .38 Special or .357 Magnum loads. I just recently picked up a large box of .38 Special brass for $20. It held over 4,000 rounds of brass so I can do a lot of heavy duty .38 Special and .357 Magnum shooting for very little money BUT the heavy .38 load is only to be used in heavy frame sixguns such as the .38/44, Colt New Service, Colt Single Action Army, and Great Western Single Action, and of course, all .357 Magnums. That early load that lead directly to the .357 Magnum is a 150 to 170 grain hard cast bullet over 13.5 grains of #2400 with standard primers. It clocks 1340 feet per second out of my four-inch .38/44 Heavy Duty and is the load that I use in it the most. The same load does 1450 feet per second out of friend and fellow gunwriter Terry Murbach's six and one-half inch .38/44 Outdoorsman.
For fast double action shooting, I use the same bullets over 5.0 grains of Unique. In the four-inch .38/44, this low recoiling load coupled with the controllability of BearHug Skeeter Skelton grips makes for prime double action shooting. Oldtimers often sung the praises of the old `long-action' of the Smith & Wesson double actions and the .38/44's made prior to 1950 all have this much desired feature.
Even though the .357 Magnum arrived in 1935, the Heavy Duty and Outdoorsman lasted in the Smith & Wesson catalog until 1966. They can still be found at gun shows and collector's meetings and often bring less than .357 Magnums. With a .38/44 and relatively cheap .38 Special brass and good supply of hard cast semi-wadcutter .38 bullets, one has a whole lot of grand sixgunning ahead.
The .38/44 Heavy Duty, in its shorter barrel lengths of three and one-half inches, four-inches, and five-inches, lead to the original .357 Magnum in three and one-half inch and five-inch lengths. Now these latter two easy-handling large frame sixguns are also gone. Such is the price of progress.
SMITH & WESSON .44 SPECIAL 1950/MODEL 24: In 1907, a new sixgun and cartridge were unveiled by Smith & Wesson. The revolver was the New Century , the Triple-lock, officially known as the .44 Hand Ejector First Model. This was S&W's first large frame double action revolver and was chambered in the equally new .44 Special. The Triple-lock got its name from the fact that it locked at the rear of the cylinder and end of the ejector rod as all Smiths still do, plus it also locked at the front of the cylinder as do modern Dan Wessons and Ruger double actions.
The Triple-lock was replaced by the .44 Hand Ejector Second Model in 1915 without the third lock and also without the enclosed ejector housing. This model became the 1917 Smith when chambered in .45 ACP for use in World War I. In 1926, the Third Hand Ejector, or Model of 1926, came along and these were magnificent sixguns with the old long action and still chambered for the .44 Special.
The return of a Great War in 1941 ceased production of the 1926 and after the war came the new and improved Model 1950 with the short action and full-ribbed barrel. This excellent sixgun would not have much time to build its reputation as by 1954 it was being used experimentally as the basis for what would become the .44 Magnum. My first .44 Special was the 1950 Target with a six and one half-inch barrel and was presented to me by my new wife on our first Christmas together in 1959. It sold for $80 when .44 Magnums were $140. The extra $60 would buy a whole lot of .44 Special brass, powder, and bullet metal.
By 1966, the .44 Special along with the .38/44 was dropped from the Smith & Wesson catalog. Prices of used .44 Special sixguns soared and no one ever thought we would see them in production again. Then in the 1980's, Smith & Wesson made a special run of Specials, producing, I believe, 5000 Model 24 blued .44 Specials. These sold so well, that the Model 624 was offered on a production basis. These were stainless steel examples of the .44 Special in four and six and one-half inch lengths. I say were as they too are now dropped from production. After six models of .44 Specials beginning in 1907, it is now impossible to get a new six-shot .44 Special Smith & Wesson.
If you do not appreciate the .44 Special, I can't explain it's mystique to you; if you do, I don't need to. I will say this, the .44 Special with a 250 grain cast semiwadcutter at 950 feet per second or the same bullet at a full 1200 feet per second will handle 99% of the chores that a sixgun is used for. And it does it with finesse from some of the finest sixguns ever produced.
SMITH & WESSON .45ACP MODEL 1950/1955: With the ending of World War II, Smith & Wesson redesigned their revolver line as they tooled up for the second half of the twentieth century. Out were the old long actions and in were the short-actioned, full-ribbed barreled Models of 1950. The .38 Special Outdoorsman and 1926 .44 Special models evolved into the Outdoorsman Model of 1950 and the Model 1950 Target. A third chambering was added and the 1950 Target .45 ACP was born. A few of these were available in a fourth chambering,.45 Colt, but they are very rare.
The 1950 .45 ACP was offered in six and one half-inch barrel length only and was aimed at target shooters. Not a few were cut to four-inch length and quietly slipped into peace officer's holsters especially returning WWII veterans who appreciated the .45 ACP chambering. Target shooters did not take to the 1950 Target as it was too light for their use, so the Model 1955 arrived with a heavy barrel as now found on the .44 Magnum Model 29 and .41 Magnum Model 57.
Before the 1955 was really able to find its niche as a premier grade target revolver, gunsmiths and shooters alike discovered the wonder of the custom 1911 .45 ACP and the day of the target revolver was over. The 1950 and 1955 .45 ACP's may not have made it as target revolvers but with minor modifications they become premier fightin' sixguns. The .45 ACP round has a proven track record. Mate CCI 200 grain `Flying ashtray' rounds with full moon clips to give the ultimate speedloader and a 1950 or 1955 with a four-inch barrel, action job, and custom grips, in my case BearHug Skeeter Skeltons, and one has near- perfect double action defensive sixgun.
COLT OFFICER'S MODEL SPECIAL/MATCH: Since I had a day off I spent it searching shops for good guns. At least it started that way. I did not get past the first pawn shop. I had expected to spend the day hitting all the pawn and gun shops within a thirty mile radius really expecting to find nothing. At the first stop, I hit. Looking in the display case I saw what looked like a Colt Officer's Model Match .38 Special. It wasn't.
It was in fact neither. Instead of an Officer's Model Match, it was the pre-Match, the Officer's Model Special made for a very short time in the early 1950's. And it wasn't a .38 at all, it was a .22. Now I was really interested since I had never found a .22 revolver that really satisfied me. This pre-Python .22 had a six-inch stovepipe of a barrel and I knew my custom BearHug Python grips should fit it.
"How does it shoot?" I asked the proprietor fully knowing that this was a stupid question. Has anyone ever told any prospective buyer that this gun shoots lousy? "It's a good shooter. Just had it out for rabbits this past week." As it turned out he lied to me. It was not a good shooter. It was a great shooter.
The Colt Officer's Model Special .22 is apparently a very rare sixgun. It bears the distincive pre-Python outline with the ejector rod not enclosed. Its six-inch heavy barrel brings the total weight to two pounds twelve ounces (forty-four ounces) perfect for target shooting. The front sight is a very sharply undercut post on a two and one-half inch ramp base. The fully adjustable rear sight is dovetailed into the frame and has reference marks on the frame and sight base both. Naturally, both front and rear sight are as God intended them to be. Black! Handling and shooting the .22 Officer's Model Match gives a good indication where the inspiration for the Python came from.
I have been on a life-long search for the perfect double action .22 revolver. I do believe I found it in the old Officer's Model .22. This old sixgun shoots CCI MiniMags into one-inch at 25 yards and I won't ask anymore than that from it. When my wife and I head for the mountains we always take a couple of cartons of .22 Long Rifles and the Colt .22 and its companion the Smith & Wesson K22. This is as life was meant to be, shooting together with two great .22 sixguns. Enjoying life, enjoying each other's company, enjoying the beautiful mountains of Idaho. It just does not get any better than this!
CHARTER ARMS BULLDOG: All of the other nine sixguns are true classics. They are good shootin' and they have the lines that make a sixgunner's heart skip a beat. The last one picked does not. It is not a classic and probably never will be. It is not a particularly good looking gun and in fact, is not even a sixgun, but a five-shooter. Not pretty, not classic, but this is the gun I always carried when out camping with the kids. This is the gun my wife always carries when her and her girlfriend hike into a mountain lake after Idaho trout. This is the gun that fully loaded weighs only one and one-half ounces more than a like fully loaded Chief's Special .38 and it carries that extra weight in its 240 grain .44 bullets. This is the Charter Arms BullDog.
For decades, both Smith & Wesson and Colt had been giving us lightweight, easy to pack so-called pocket pistols in .38 Special chambering. It remained for the now defunct Charter Arms Company to give us a small lightweight revolver in a big bore chambering. And now we have factory loaded .44 Specials to match as both Black Hills and Federal offer semi-wadcutter loaded .44 Special factory brass.
A lot of guns have come my way since I acquired my first .44 BullDog. But I still have a loaded one in my desk and my wife still has hers above her pillow on the headboard. This is the gun I use to start young kids and grandkids out with big bore revolvers. Their small hands can handle it and loaded with shotshells and up close to pop cans gives them the confidence they need to handle a `big' gun. Mine still packs just as easy as it always did and will even slip into the top of my boot should I desire to carry it so. Rarely ever shot, but always at hand, the Charter Arms BullDog rounds out my list of Too Good To Be Forgotten.